A new venue aims to put Birmingham on a different kind of sports map.
The Magic City ePlex, an 18,000-square-foot venue in the Crestwood Festival Center, aims to serve the growing esports market by serving as an esports training, competition hosting and development location as well as general space for video game play.
Chris Donaldson, director of the ePlex, founded the location with several investors.
One market the venue hopes to serve is the growing high school esports scene. Last year, esports were designated an official varsity sport by the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Donaldson said the number of esports high school teams in the state doubled over the past year, and member of those players don't participate in another sport.
“So what I take from that there is a large percentage of our kids that want to play a sport that aren’t really athletic, or can’t throw a football or hit a baseball, and their skill is gaming," Donaldson said. "What we found in our research is that there are thousands of people just in the Birmingham area that are part of gaming communities.”
The Magic City ePlex, which aims to open in mid November, will have a purpose-built event stage for esports competitions. The locations will also have 12 TVs and stadium seating surround the stage to provide a spectator friendly viewing area. Each of the 10 stage PCs also has its own streaming channel that will stream live every time we are open.
According to Donaldson, the location has formed a relationship with HP to build HP Omen desktops for their gaming stations. HP will also be donating prizes for many of their tournaments.
The location will also have modern consoles, and “old school” pinball and arcade machines. It will also include eight virtual reality (VR) pods from VR Studios in Seattle. They will feature wireless free-roam headsets for virtual reality games with up to four players. The location, in general, will also serve as a training and coaching academy for player development and team practice.
The location will also feature a small restaurant offering salads, sandwiches and pizza we lass as local beers on tap and wine as well as spaces for parties and meetings.
Donaldson said the market is ripe as ever for Alabama to take advantage of the growing esports market.
“I think, from ages eight to 18, there are gamers that will come out in droves. And it’s not just kids, it’s not, it’s not just high school kids, people like my age, I’m 40 years old,” he said. “So knowing that there’s such a large percentage of kids out there that want to be a part of a team and want to be a part of an organization.”The venue will be the latest addition to Crestwood Festival Center, which experienced a significant influx of tenants and activity over the past decade after renovations. Overall, the location will aim to capture a fast-growing market that has rapidly expanded in popularity both in the U.S. and around the world.